The cabinet secretary for education may withhold funding from certain local authorities who have failed to adequately protect their teacher numbers in recent years.

Following the announcement of a ringfenced £145 million to help local authorities maintain their teacher numbers, education secretary Jenny Gilruth told the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Children and Young People Committee that "four or five" councils have not met the requirements for that funding.

As a result, these councils are under review by the government.

Ms Gilruth renewed a warning that she has the power to withhold funding if councils have not met the agreed requirements.

“This additionality was agreed to in an arrangement between the government and COSLA (convention of Scottish local authorities) that it would be protected for teacher numbers.

“That is what our local authorities signed up to deliver.”

“They understood the rationale behind it, they understood the requirements around this funding.

“That’s why we hold back some of this funding. We will look in detail at the four or five where we have seen significant falls.”

Read more: Spike in Scots teachers leaving the profession citing poor pay and classroom violence

She did not specify the four local authorities that are under tighter scrutiny.

Labour’s education spokesperson, Pam Duncan-Glancy, said that whether local authorities will have specific financial or geographical concerns that put problems with recruiting or retaining teachers partly out of their control.

She also asked for a clear explanation of the circumstances which may trigger clawbacks, and whether local authorities will be scrutinized or punished for spending their portion of the £145 million on other areas within the education budget.

"Will you also be looking at what the local authorities might have had to use some of that money for in relation to education?

"For example, free breakfasts, or writing of school meal debt, or meeting the needs of pupils with additional support needs."

The issue of teacher shortages in Scotland predates the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The General Teaching Council for Scotland recently released a report which shows that more than 1,300 teachers left the profession within their first five years since 2018. Teachers often cited growing classroom violence and poor pay as their reasons for leaving.

Read more: Trouble brewing as new teachers walk away from the classroom

Ms Gilruth said that there would be understanding for local authorities and their individual circumstances.

“I’m happy to hear that rationale.

“We will look at it in detail, recognising that for all local authorities this has been a challenging time, not just for Government.”

The Scottish Government’s most recent school summary data reported that teacher numbers fell by 160 full-time equivalent positions in 2023, down to 54,033.

Ms Gilruth explained that 15 local authorities have reported a drop in their teacher numbers.

In some cases, the councils’ numbers only fell by one or two teachers, while others reported more significant decline.

According to the statistics, the losses were all in primary and special schools and early learning centres.

The largest decreases, proportional to each local authority's total teacher numbers, were in East Ayrshire, Glasgow and Moray.

The push to protect teacher numbers echoed earlier comments from Ms Gilruth, who said that teachers and teacher conditions will be key for solving many of Scotland's education concerns.

“Part of the challenge around about whether it’s behaviour, whether it’s attendance, whether it’s curriculum, whether it’s reform is actually around about teachers’ conditions in their place of work.

“If I can just reflect on last year and the negotiations around the pay settlement, that didn’t look at changing conditions or improving conditions for teachers.

“I think we have an opportunity through a commitment to reduce class contact to do just that.”